By Brad Spencer
We simply expected to see some intensity from Lovie Smith, if not at the onset of his tenure as head coach of the Bears, then down the road when, inevitably, Chicago gruffness found its way into his soft Texas drawl.
But it never happened.
Despite taking on the responsibility of coaching a football team with a history of knock-down, drag-out, blood-letting toughness, Smith maintained his unperturbed composure during even the most distressing moments. I, for one, figured the smoke would come billowing from his ears, and his eyeballs, fiery red, would burst with rage after the Bears fell in the NFC Championship two years ago to the dreaded Packers, the same team they could have knocked out of the playoffs had they won the final game of the regular season. Cringe. Relax. Massage deltoid cramp. Cringe again. Damn, that deltoid!
It was Smith who, during the press conference announcing his hiring nine seasons ago, said he was looking forward to re-establishing the Bears as the dominant team in the rivalry between the Packers. But that never happened either.
Three division titles, two appearances in the NFC championship game and, of course, that 2006 Super Bowl appearance — where Devin Hester's opening kickoff return for a touchdown was the lone Bears highlight — could not keep Smith around for the remaining year on his contract. It might seem like such success would be enough for any coach to keep his job, but not if you're Lovie Smith coaching in a place like Chicago.
Smith's character never took root with Bears fans. It was like Dick Butkus trying to become best buds with Burt Bacharach. These two entities have nothing in common. Why is it that Mike Ditka is considered a legend in Chicago despite winning just one Super Bowl and being a mediocre coach at best? Because he fit the character that for so long had become associated with Bears fans — that brusque, tough-guy image.
Going 7-1 to start the season and 3-5 thereafter, including a frustrating six-week stretch of 1-5, didn't help matters for Smith. This season's debacle was reminiscent of last year when the Bears began 7-3 only to finish 8-8, though mostly due to a season-ending injury to Jay Cutler. Jerry Angelo paid the price for that one.
The Bears will not get, but they do need, a coach like either Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, two guys who wouldn't shrug off a loss to the Packers or anyone else as simply the game of football. If Gruden were so accepting, he never would have made it out of Oakland alive long ago with its colorful but demanding fans. Same goes with Cowher in Pittsburgh. Neither man, I'm sure, would allow their starting QB to call timeouts at will and publicly scold his offensive linemen.
With a first-year GM, a new head coach on the way, the Brian Urlacher-era likely coming to a close, and just one year left on Jay Cutler's contract, the Bears are headed for a facelift.
Let's hope that when the gauze comes off, it's an intense face that Bears fans will recognize and embrace.